“My Sin” on a Wooden Cross

I’m a front-row-pew kind of Christian. Not that it matters where you sit. The truth is, I can’t read the powerpoint slides when I sit back further than the third row. I opened my vision corrected eyes and lifted my head when the prayer finished. My husband and I slid out of the row towards the centre aisle. Tonight we were doing something a little different for the Lord’s Supper.

In my hand I held a little card. The words “my sin” were written on it. A wooden cross stood just below the platform. I raised my hand. The head of the nail fixed in the cross, slid inside the hole on my card. I made my way back to my seat.

My eyes were already stinging with tears. There I sat. Once Christ’s enemy, now given the gift of nearness through his sacrifice. “My sin” hung on the cross. The only thing keeping me from God, completely covered. I know my heart. I know who I am: my motives, my thoughts, my desires. I know the depth of the sin he’s covered. I couldn’t help but wonder at the awesome beauty of this gift poured out willingly into my frail trembling hands. Someone died for me.

First row, first up, now I watched the others make their way to the cross. This sight was almost more beautiful than the sight of my sin leaving my fingers. A visual reminder of salvation’s scope unfolded before my blurred eyes. I watched others file past: men, women, children, young, old, a woman with a cane, a little girl with a missing front tooth, light skinned and dark, grey haired and blonde, nations, tribes, and tongues. These all came with their own stories, their own sins.

Woe to those who can’t see this beauty: deep, sweet, and endless. Whose sin blinded eyes would sooner cut off their own hand than relinquish the right to self and accept this gift from so loving a master. Can anything be more magnificent in purity or perfect in love?

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Body broken.
Blood shed.
I’m made white by his blood red.
Open my eyes lord.
Help me see,
To give up self and live for thee.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

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I Dream of Bovines in a Large Red Barn

The cow in question
“You like ‘Alice in Wonderland’?”

I looked up from my book to my guy friend. I sighed and exchanged it for my Algebra II book.

“Yes I do.” I replied. He wrinkled his nose.

“But it’s so weird.”

“It’s clever!”

“He wasn’t clever. He was on drugs!”

This revelation crushed my world, but didn’t change my opinion of Lewis Carroll. I still think he’s a genius and I still love Alice. I think the reason it was so devastating is because I’ve always had super Alice-in-Wonderlandesque dreams. Now I wonder if people think I’m on drugs too…

I once dreamed that I was chugging along in my Uncle’s black pick up truck. I have never in reality driven this truck. It’s massive. It has one of those oversized truck beds with wheel wells that stick out like sidecars. I’m a tiny little Honda Civic kind of girl. The more compact the better.

Regardless, I was trucking down a narrow side street on the way to my grandmothers. I took a sharp bend in the road and…

BAM!

I didn’t see her until it was too late. She was a middle-aged brunette in jeans and a black vest. I slammed on the breaks and jumped out of the truck. My heart was pounding. My slumber infused consciousness had not yet registered these events as a dream, and, as far as I knew, I had just hit a person.

Oddly enough she was fine. I mean…she was a bit miffed. It’s legitimate. I would be too if you hit me. Especially since she was already lame, as evidenced by her black and sliver cane laying on the side of the road.

“I’m so so sorry,” I moaned, at a loss for anything else to say. “Here, I’ll take you to the hospital.”

These were the pre-cellphone days of our lives. This seemed like the best option. She acquiesced to my offer and I carried her into the truck. I laid her on the floor behind my seat and quickly made my way towards the medical center. I didn’t make small talk. What do you say to a woman you just hit? She was the one who first broke the silence.

“Why are you going this way?” she said nervously. “Are you insane?”

“What are you talking about?” I responded. My palms began to sweat against the wheel.

“Just whatever you do, don’t look that cow in the eye! He’ll kill us.”

“What cow?”

“The one in that barn you idiot!”

A massive three story barn stood in the field in front of us. The field was wide and empty save that big fire engine red building with the white trim. The grass was yellow, dying with the change in seasons. I tried to recall this building being there before. I’d driven to my grandparents house a million times, I was practically raised there.

“Don’t even think about looking!” she snarled. I locked my eyes on the road and kept driving.

Curiosity is a dangerous thing and my veins flow with an abnormally high amount. Figuring it was safe to check my rearview mirror, I waited until we passed the building and glanced up.

The three-story barn was built like a hugermongerous doghouse. One large curved opening framed the biggest cow I will ever see. It looked inflated, like those ridiculous blow up decorations that are so popular around the holidays. There was no fan blowing merrily under this beast though. It had big white horns and a massive golden ring embracing his nostrils.

I shuddered as fear rippled through me. The huge round eyes locked with mine in the mirror. My heart stopped beating. The warm brown eyes of the cow melted into a menacing red. Steam poured from his nostrils. One hoof struck the ground, tearing up the dying grass. He snorted.

“You fooooool!” the woman behind me moaned. She dissolved into hysterical sobs.

The cow charged. I woke up screaming. I sat in my bed, safe, sound, and completely devoid of cows. I laid my head back on my pillow.

“Wow,” I murmured. “That was weird…”

I recently left my job and a coworker bemoaned my loss. “Who will tell me their weird dreams now?” she asked. Who indeed Sandra? For I have not yet met anyone in person who has dreams like me. I know there are others out there. I can’t possibly be the only living being with vivid bizarre dreams. I just wish they would affirm me. So if you’re reading this and you’ve had similar bizarre things occurring in your slumber…let me know…please?

Time to Fly

Unknown

I’ve heard a million times that life will bring you to a crossroads.  I always assumed I could turn right or left, that I would have a choice.  Now I know life isn’t always like that.  Sometimes your path in life ends with a cliff.  That’s what mine was.  I stood on the precipice looking down.

“It’s an awful long drop,” I said.

“You’re not going to drop.  You’re going to fly.”  I could hear the smile in his voice.  He reached down and lifted up my arms.  “Go ahead.”  His hands slipped from me as he took a step backwards.

I looked down again.  It was dark, cold, and unknown.  Even the horizon seemed like an endless sea of blue, no place to land, nowhere to rest.  It shouldn’t have frightened me.  It should have bewitched me with its beauty.  So why was my stomach turning?

“What if I can’t find a place to land?”

“Of course you will,” he replied gently.  “Everyone who’s gone before you has.”

“But that was them.  This is me.  What if…”

I would try to list the endless circle of “what if’s” that poured from my fumbling lips, but I barely remember them myself now.  I just remember the panic.  What started with a fluttery sensation in my stomach, mutated into a violent seizure of fear.  I dropped to the ground, digging my fingers into the solid earth.  My throat grew raw from my terrified screams.  I gasped and choked on my tears.

His hands took hold of my trembling body.  He pulled me up.  I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was.  I felt weak, needy, and helpless.  I looked up into his kind eyes.  They smiled at me.

“I want to do it,” I murmured.  “But I can’t.”

He squeezed my hand.  “You will.  But not right now.  Sit back.  We’ll talk.”

I wiped my leaking eyes on my sleeve before I awkwardly acquiesced.  It was hard to look at him at first while he talked, but his gentle voice broke through to me.  He told me about his own hardships.  He told me about how he learned to fly.  I told him all about me.  I told him all my deepest fears.  He listened.  Laughed.  Cried.

I don’t know how long we sat there.  I can’t put a finger on the moment it happened.  The realization came as a gentle, slow awakening in my heart. The truth was that I was born with wings.  I was created to fly.

I ran out of words.  He didn’t speak either.  We listened to the wind blow down off the cliff into the unknown.  I fingered the familiar cool green grass for the last time.

“You’re ready aren’t you?” he said softly.

I looked up at him.  His gentle eyes were smiling again.

“I think I am,” I said.

We stood together.  I turned to face the cliff.  It wasn’t less scary, just less daunting.  I felt him fade away.  I knew if I turned he would no longer be there.  But the whisper of his kind wisdom was a part of me now.  It gave me the courage I lacked.

I spread my wings.  Time to fly.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

Truth

Truth is the Goliath we don’t want to face
Yet
Yet he draws the line of battle

Two choices
Stand
Shrink

Stand brings risk
Risk of challenge
Risk of rejection
Risk of solitude
Turned against – forgotten

Shrink brings censure
Censure from me
Censure from family
Censure from others
Loss of self – respect

Dare I?
Dare I stand and risk
Dare I?
Dare I shrink and risk you
You continuing forward blindly
Groping towards falsehood
Can I save you?
Should I?

Fear and Bravery meet
Embrace
Kiss
Meld

I stand
Sling in hand
God help me.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For?

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“I’ve heard it said, ‘Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.’”

My pastor’s voice came over the nursery loud-speaker. My arms were full of sleeping infant.  The woman beside me listened with closed eyes to the sermon overhead.

“Hmmm,” she grunted. “That is so true.”

My arms were asleep. I shuffled and looked down into the tiny face.  My mind ticked away. I failed to stop the words leaking from my mouth.

“No,” I said. “No, it isn’t.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times growing up. Most often when a preacher would stumble onto James 1:3. The passage says: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The preacher would look up from his Bible and say, “This is why we need to be careful when we pray for patience.”

People…we’re missing the point.

What is prayer? Prayer is our direct communication with God. Sometimes it feels like God is so far away. Prayer is our link, our chain to him. It’s the time when we stop to talk to him. Sometimes we cuddle in his lap, cup our hand around his ear and whisper to him. Other times, we weep and scream. Our Father delights in all these moments. He wants to share them with us: the hurt, the fear, the joy, the sorrow. Looking at the Psalms you see hundreds of prayers. Those saints too whispered, screamed, cried, and sung for joy. It was just as essential in their spiritual walk as it is to us today.  It moves us closer to abiding in the beautiful, unfathomable love of God.

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” God made us for more, and as we grow closer to him we find our true love and desires molding to his, giving us the fulfillment we’ve always craved. Our defective sinful natures keep us locked in the temporal, but closer abiding changes us.  It changes our prayers.  Our prayers morph from “God I want a new car” to “God please give me more patience.”  God wants us to seek patience.  Increased patience will give us increased joy.  Permanent joy.  New cars give us temporal happiness.

So, should I truly fear to ask anything of God? What’s the worst that will happen? Truly.  Is it the “no” I fear?  That saying would teach us it’s the fulfillment of such I should fear.  No. The answer comes in the verse just prior to James 1:3. It says, “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  Joy people!  Joy!  Not happiness.  Not a faint smile, but real, deep, abiding, joy.

Ironically, seconds prior to these words over the loudspeaker, my companion and I had been discussing my miscarriage.  This time last year I was pregnant.  God chose to take my child from my husband and me directly to him.  It would be a gross understatement to say this has been hard on us, we both desperately want a child, but the fact of the matter is, I have never once been angry at God for doing so.  I ask him “why”.  It’s a legitimate question.  I don’t know the answer.  What I do know is this.  I learned through my miscarriage that God loves my husband and me.  I learned that he is in ultimate control of everything.  I learned that I can fall into his arms when I’m hurt and frightened.

We have two thoughts before us.  One: we need to be careful to ask God for things or we’ll get them.  Two: I received desired spiritual lessons from my miscarriage.  If we believe thought one to be truth, than thought two is a direct result of thought one. Thus the only conclusion we can draw is that I would be holding my baby today if I had never asked God to teach me to love and trust him more.  I submit to you that this is heresy.  If not, then it’s safer for us to restrict our prayers to the weather.

God is not the divine author of agony.  He does not sit on his throne waiting to squash us with trials, death, and fun sucking.  He wants the best for us.  He wants us to have peace.  He wants us to have joy.  If we truly believe that, we will never fear to ask him for anything.  Our spiritual growth brings joy to us and God.  I found joy in my trial.  Yes, I found grief too, but the joy is pervasive.  One day I will see my baby again.  I believe this. Until then I find joy and love in the arms of a God who will fill the aching hole that my baby left with me.

I have not stopped praying for God to teach me to love him more.  I will not stop.  And, so far, the roof of my apartment hasn’t caved in and my refrigerator isn’t infested with genetically enhanced arthropods.

Johnny Johnny Jack

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac
Each ache and pain would put him in a stew.
He drove his folks insane ‘bout the tumor in his brain,
And how his liver function was askew.

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac.
His cabinet a banquet hall of pills.
A full colorful display that could chase his pains away.
He took day trips to pick up his refills.

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac.
His catalogue of specialists ran thus:
From a gastroenterologist to dozens of psychologists,
They weekly met his illness to discuss.

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac.
He weakly wheezed and whimpered while he wailed.
And his list of maladies that could cause fatalities,
Was longer than the Appalachian trail.

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac.
He rose each day assured that he would die.
An inhaler in each hand and his nurse at his command,
He somehow did this daily doom defy.

Johnny Johnny Jack was a hypochondriac.
Though sick perhaps he lived to Ninety-two.
His body was donated when at last it was vacated.
His incurable disease to thus review.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

Walmart and Mr. Bean

“I’ve been thinking…”

My husband was pushing the shopping cart. He looked up at me blandly. I get these “thoughts” rather frequently. They are conceived in my fevered imagination, and burst unexpectedly from my mouth at all odd hours of the day and night (in the middle of a film…during a church service… when he’s trying to kiss me…). One can never guess when I’ll turn to him and say these words. Truthfully, the majority of these moments aren’t even preceded by this three and a half-word warning. His introduction to this trend came early in our dating history. I remember one particular phone call when I answered my cell, skipped the greeting, and blurted out, “What exactly is a sarcophagus?”

Perhaps a more tangible explanation of this strange proclivity of mine, would be to compare myself to Dug, the golden retriever in Pixar’s movie “Up”. Throughout our journey getting to know the scatterbrained pup, he will often break off mid sentence, stare into the distance and shout, “Squirrel!”. My husband burst into raucous laughter when we first saw this moment of movie magic. I laughed too…until Timothy leaned over and whispered, “It’s you!” I grimaced at him. “Very funny Timothy. Veeeeery funny…”

Regardless, we were in Walmart, picking up this and that. We were approaching the dairy section. I had my eye on a particular brand of sour cream. A gentlemen and his companion sidled up to the area I was required to approach, and broke into a short discussion. We queued up behind and waited our turn. That was when I turned to my husband.

“I’ve been thinking, what if someone went all Mr. Bean on people at the grocery store.”

My husband smiled at me and chuckled. He knew immediately what I meant. The poor man has had more servings of Mr. Bean force-fed to him than most people get in a lifetime. My thought process ran thus:

I imagined myself standing directly behind, almost uncomfortably close to the gentlemen in front of my beloved brand of sour cream. He picks up vanilla yogurt. I too pick up the same brand and container of vanilla yogurt. He shrugs and wonders why that odd duck needed to stand so disagreeably close to him. Cart leading the way, he shoves off towards the chip and pretzel aisle.

After browsing the current selection of Lay’s potato chips, he lifts a bag of the salt and vinegar variety. Something in his peripheral vision catches his eye. He turns. Blinks. There I stand, looking him over with an unidentifiable expression, somewhere between amusement and disdain. I reach over. I lift not one but two bags of the same potato chips. I sneer. He widens his eyes, grunts, and heads to the next aisle.

What else did he need? Bread! Right. He stops to gently squeeze a loaf. Fear and curiosity tickle the hairs on the back of his neck. Hesitantly, he looks over his shoulder. Yes. Yes I’m there. I already have three loafs of the same bread in my cart.

He dashes with his cart into the next aisle. His heart beats hard against his ribs. He stops short in the middle. His head turns back and forth several times. The freak is nowhere in sight. He takes stock of his surroundings. Candy and gum. He walks down towards the Twizzlers. A pick-me-up would be lovely after this bizarre experience. His hand stretches for the cherry bites. Just before his fingers touch the plastic packaging, a hand reaches from the void and snatches it away. He closes his eyes. Lifts his hand for another. That one too disappears. He finally turns his eyes to mine. I slowly shake my head.

My husband and I finished our trip to Walmart. We hopped into our little white Honda in silence. I was staring off into the distance.

“Buckle up,” Timothy said. He turned the key in the ignition. I turned my head towards him.

“They’d curse me out wouldn’t they?” I asked.

“Probably. But if you want to do it, I’ll follow you and video.”

Fear not, thou unsuspecting shopper. I’m not brave enough.